Over the holidays, I made a requisite trip to my hometown in Poland. A White Christmas is quite standard there. It snowed for at least 6 hours on the second day of Christmas, the day I visited some distant relatives—the Sisters.
The Sisters live in the village of Kluczbork. It is not a picturesque village with chickens, cows and fields of rye anymore. It was like long ago and it is still traditionally referred to as a village, but now it is a neatly manicured suburb. Kluczbork and surrounding villages were established and developed by the Knights of Cross with the Red Star in 13th century. The traces of the town’s knightly history can be seen everywhere there. I had to pass through the medieval city gate on my way to the Sisters. The gate still stands, and is also preserved on Kluczbork’s seal.
Snowflakes were flying here and there as I passed through the gate, but it had not snowed seriously yet. It was the sort of light, playful snowfall in which one can still be amused trying to catch flakes like wintry butterflies. The real snow showed up as I got under the roof of the warm and fragrant house of the Sisters, redolent of seasonal scents: cloves, cinnamon, oranges, chocolate, allspice, coffee, star anise, freshly cut pine, dried porcini mushrooms soaked in water…and some other unnamed sweetness from my early childhood. And then I clearly smelled mint and freshly chopped wood for the kitchen stove. The Sisters are great admirers of tradition and beauty and knowledge. They live comfortably in their carefully restored and elegantly remodeled house, built three generations ago. (They are not Luddites, though. Their wood-burning stove is modern and they have other kitchen appliances. The latter are discreetly hidden in cupboards and the pantry.)
At the first glance one can only see the functionally designed Silesian kitchen from the turn of 19th and 20th century, with elements of the Silesian Art Deco. Nothing there is simply for show. All the kitchen accessories are used regularly, to my joy and my admiration. My favorite one is the butter mold.
The stove was radiated warmth and all kinds of cracking noises as it consumed the aromatic pine wood. The cat was purring so loudly that you could probably hear the happy sound standing on the east coast of the US. Chattering, joking, listening to the music and singing the carols. we started making the porcini mushroom soup. The kitchen was filled with a holiday joy and excitement. Rex, the dog was happily sleeping under the table and the snow outside was falling in earnest, dividing the landscape into stark black and white.
I do not remember who or what awoke the cat. All of the sudden I saw him sitting on the window sill with a dreamy face, staring at us with somehow surprised eyes. I could not resist taking a photo of his confusion.
The mushrooms, the essence of forest were collected by the Sisters in summer. I was bit envious, for mushroom hunts in the forest in early September are among my most treasured memories of childhood—the best part of my childhood before I began elementary school. (The school sadly conflicted greatly with my imagination, but that is another story.)
The mushroom soup was delicious, sweetened by carrots and parsley roots. The potatoes were soft and the mushrooms were aromatic, as they should be. The spices brought the final touch and the homemade butter enhanced the silky quality of the liquid. The second course was tasty as well—homemade sauerkraut with Norwegian salmon and home-grown potatoes. I do not know how the Sisters, who work by day as professionals, have time to cultivate their garden with a Franciscan goodness and love towards nature. I suspect that they must talk to the plants, encouraging them to grow and to produce such sweet fruits and gorgeous vegetables.
The highlight of the dessert (homemade tort and ginger cake) was an infusion made by L. L has been known as a master of dessert fruit wines and now, as it turned out, of infusions. It was her spectacular debut. She “imprisoned” bitter cherries and their pits with wild raspberries from the forest, honey, alcohol and the summer sunlight in dark glass bottles for 5 months. (The second batch is still maturing in a cold and dark cellar.) The color of the cordial was deep ruby. The taste…well, only summer can taste like L’s infusion. It was sweet and warming with a note of bitter almonds and the sound of summer bees buzzing. We were sitting at the table telling stories about life and planning the next getting together, sipping L’s infusion and mint tea. (The mint came from the Sisters’ garden, of course.) At that moment I was ready to promise myself that I would cultivate some herbs on my balcony in distant Seattle. How can one lead a life without such daydreams?
The snow was snowing and snowing. The animals continued to laze, showing neither interest nor respect for Weihnachts Oratorium. It was warm and pleasant and peaceful, but I had to go home. I went outside into the white and sparkling world, a fairytale landscape. I tried to absorb every moment of that rare beauty. I knew that it wouldn’t last long. Indeed, as I crossed the medieval city gate, the weather started deteriorating and a rain washed the already melting snow away. By 22h00 the snow was only in my memory—my six hours of White Christmas, AD 2012.